It came as a challenge for scientists and a team of international astronomers, through a modern technique which discovered three baby planets around a newborn star. Since the 1990s, scientists have found many exoplanets that orbit distant stars, but this latest discovery of the infant protoplanets that are embedded in stellar expanses of dust and gas is an incredible discovery that affirms age-old assumptions of planet formations.
Under normal circumstances, exoplanets get detected as they come in front of the host star, which results in dimming effect, or at times when the gravity of these exoplanets makes the host star to jiggle slightly. These techniques do not allow so well to study the protoplanetary disk (the dull and hazed expanses that are full of dust, gases and rocks). As per theory, within these disks, planets are formed, but ironically astronomers have never seen this happening, neither have ever they found any baby planet in these dust filled incubators. This stands as an issue as scientists are very much keen on detecting protoplanets. But now with the findings of the latest discoveries that were published in Astrophysical Journal Letters, the picture is much more transparent.
Three baby planets were detected by two teams of astronomers, using ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimetre Array} in Chile, around the young star – HD 163296, which is at a distance of 330 light years from the Earth. This star may be twice in size of the sun, but almost one-thousand times younger the suns age, at just four million years. The astronomers used new technology to detect these infant planets. A technique that finds out anomalous patterns of gas flows within the disks that form planets.
Richard Teague, the astronomer with the University of Michigan, led the team that found two protoplanets of the Jupiter mass located at about 12 billion km (7.4 billion miles) and 21 million km (13 billion miles) away from the host star. It’s almost 80 and 140 times respectively the distance from the Earth to the sun.
In another independent finding by Christopher Pinte, at the Monash University of Clayton, Australia, he and his team observed a planet a little more distant at about 39 billion km (24 billion miles) away from the host star. The findings confirmed that all the three planets are embedded firmly within the protoplanetary disk of HD 163296.
It has been an encouraging outcome that highlights ALMA’s capabilities to hunt for infant planets. With the success of the new technology, it also confirms that many other protoplanetary disks can be studied similarly.